Back down, back down

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TOPS – Turn Your Love Around

1. I’m 16. I’m on a Vespa, my mom on back. We’re driving to buy bread, zipping down the hilly paved road at about 40 km/h. As we crest one hill, a scooter shoots out from behind a fence. My mother screams into my ear and it startles me more than the motorbike. We hit — hard — and I flip over the top of the handlebars and sail through the air. Time stops. I’m sure, fully positive, that I will die. I know this the same way I know my name. I feel a peace. I’m content. I’m going to die and everything will be ok.

2. I’m 20. I’m in the old gray Nissan truck, a junker with a rusted frame but surprisingly decent engine. All four of us boys learned how to drive stick on it, so the clutch is pretty finicky, but otherwise it has held up well mechanically. My mom is in the passenger seat. We’re driving into town to mail a package at the post office. Over the bridge there’s a three-way light, with a semi waiting at a red. I pull up and he starts drifting backward. I look behind and there’s nobody behind me. I go to put the pickup in reverse, except it keeps jamming. I push the gear stick down and to the right and all I get is that abrasive gear crunching noise. I’m not sure what to do — the semi is rolling slowly toward us — so I just keep trying to jam it into reverse. The semi is feet away. My mom reaches over and pushes the horn frantically, and the truck stops rolling. I probably would have sat there mutely and let him crush me.

3. I’m in fourth grade. Just graduated, in fact. I’m sitting next to my brother in a 20-passanger white van, ready to drive to the airport. All our luggage is piled in the back of a truck. Everyone at my boarding school whose parents live in Indonesia are in the van. Most of them are seniors. The girls are openly weeping, pressing their hands against the windows at their friends and pushing stringy hair out of their wet faces. They don’t know when, if ever, they will see their friends again. Either way, it won’t be the same; they will go to different colleges and grow apart and never raise each other like they did in dorms. We’ve been sitting in the van for half an hour. My brother and I are giddy. We’re on vacation and about to see our parents. And, plus, airplanes! We are laughing and poking each other in the ribs. We are tone deaf. One girl, through heaving sobs, cries, “Can we just go already?” It’s too much to stare at her crying friends, having already said goodbye, just sitting in a cramped sweaty van waiting for life to change, probably for the worse.

[Tender Opposites.]

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